Problem Management

Problem Management

Problem Management Jonathan Poland

Problem management is an important aspect of IT service management that involves identifying, analyzing, and resolving problems that can impact the performance or availability of an IT service. A problem is a root cause of one or more incidents, which are negative events that cause a loss of service or quality.

Problem management is a proactive process that focuses on identifying and resolving problems before they cause significant disruptions to business operations. This involves a number of different activities, including problem identification, problem analysis, and problem resolution.

One of the key goals of problem management is to prevent incidents from occurring in the first place. This can be achieved through a number of different techniques, such as identifying and addressing potential problem areas, implementing preventative measures, and monitoring the IT environment to detect potential problems before they cause incidents.

When an incident does occur, problem management is responsible for identifying and analyzing the underlying problem, and developing a plan to resolve it. This often involves working closely with other teams, such as the incident management team, to ensure that the problem is resolved as quickly and effectively as possible.

Problem management is a critical part of ensuring the availability and performance of IT services. By proactively identifying and resolving problems, businesses can minimize the impact of incidents and maintain a high level of service quality for their customers. Here are some illustrative examples.

Incident Management

Incident management is the process of detecting and handling negative events. The goal here is to find a quick resolution or workaround that reduces losses. This can be contrasted with problem management that solves the root cause of the incident to prevent recurring issues. For example, if a system is down incident response teams may reboot a machine to resolve the incident. The incident is closed when service is restored. Problem management would then investigate why the machine was malfunctioning to determine if further corrective action is required. The problem is closed when the root cause of the incident is addressed.

Root Cause Analysis

When an incident occurs there are often several layers of cause. Root cause analysis tends to be a complex and open-ended exercise such that any two teams that look at the same problem are likely to reach different conclusions. As a rule of thumb, the goal is to find the cause with the greatest explanatory power that is within your ability to fix. For example, the cause “the sensor wasn’t tested at last maintenance” is likely to be selected as it can be addressed by the airline to prevent future incidents.

Corrective Action

Corrective action is an action that solves a current problem. For example, replacing a faulty sensor on an aircraft.

Preventative Action

Preventative action is an action that prevents future incidents. For example, testing sensors on a monthly basis to prevent safety issues and flight delays.

Design Thinking

Problems can often be solved with design practices such as reliability engineering. For example, redesigning a user interface to prevent latent human error.


Resilience is an approach to solving problems by designing your society, city, organization, processes and practices in a fundamentally sound way. For example, a city that uses land in a high risk tsunami zone as a park that is easily evacuated as compared to a city that builds hospitals, schools, houses, nuclear power facilities and other vulnerable structures on the same land.

Continuous Improvement

In many cases, a problem isn’t resolved with a single action but requires an ongoing and sustained program of improvement. For example, a series of pervasive customer service incidents that require training and improvements to your customer service culture that may take years to fully achieve.

Knowledge Management

Problem management tends to generate a great deal of knowledge. For example, you may identify process gaps that aren’t prioritized to be fixed. This knowledge can be captured, shared and communicated.

Known Problem Management

The process of monitoring for incidents related to a known problem to apply a standard workaround or fix. For example, a manual workaround that a team can use to complete their work when a system is experiencing availability issues.

Problem Review

The process of reviewing each problem to identify organizational weakness that can be improved.

Problem Communication

Problems tend to capture the attention of stakeholders such as executive management, business units and customers. As such, communicating the status of problems and managing relationships with stakeholders is a key element of problem management. For example, managing communication with a customer who has reported a problem.

Risk Management

Risk management is the process of identifying potential incidents and treating them before they occur. This can be integrated with problem management as problem management teams can contribute to the identification and reduction of risk.

Quality Assurance

Quality assurance is the practice of addressing the root cause of quality failures. This is essentially problem management under a different name or vice versa.

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